MOSCOW - A Russian Soyuz capsule landed on the Kazakh steppe on Monday, Sept. 17, delivering a trio of astronauts from a four-month stint on the International Space Station.
The capsule, carrying U.S. astronaut Joseph Acaba and Russian
cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin, parachuted through
a blue sky and touched down in a cloud of dust as its soft
landing engines ignited at 8:53 local time (0253 GMT).
“Bull’s eye landing,” a NASA TV commentator said as the
capsule lay on its side in the Kazakh steppe circled overhead by
approaching search-and-recovery helicopters.
Veteran mission commander Padalka, who has logged 711 days
in orbit to make him the world’s fourth most experienced
astronaut, was the first out of the cramped descent capsule.
“I feel great,” said Padalka, wrapped in a blue blanket,
sipping hot tea and smiling, enjoying the balmy steppe air under
the early morning sunlight as medical personnel wiped sweat from
“This was my fourth flight, and so it is nothing of the
extraordinary already,” he said, looking relaxed.
During his stay at the orbital station, Padalka conducted a
six-hour spacewalk on Aug. 20 to relocate a crane, launch a
small science satellite and install micrometeoroid shields on
the space station’s Zvezda command module.
He and fellow crew members Acaba and Revin were carried over
to autograph the Soyuz, scorched black by re-entry, to be
displayed in a Russian provincial museum.
The crew returned after spending 123 days in orbit aboard
the International Space Station, a $100 billion research complex
involving 15 countries and orbiting 240 miles (385 km) above
The mission was shorter than the usual six months after
launch delays in order to ready a new spaceship to replace the
initial Soyuz craft, which was cracked during pressure tests.
Moscow hopes Monday’s smooth landing will help to ease
concerns over relying solely on Russia to service the ISS
following a string of recent mishaps in its space programme.
“Everything is to cheer today,” Russian space agency chief
Vladimir Popovkin told reporters at Mission Control in Moscow.
“Padalka, Revin and Acaba are feeling well, and they will
all go home today.”
Three other International Space Station crew members –
veteran Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, NASA astronaut
Sunita Williams and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide – remain
They are scheduled to be joined by another trio – Kevin Ford,
Oleg Novitsky and Yevgeny Tarelkin – due to blast off from the
Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan next month.
That mission was scheduled to launch on October 15 but will
be delayed by about a week due to a technical glitch with
equipment aboard the Soyuz, Popovkin said.
“We’ve had a worry over one of the devices. We decided to
change it, test it again and so the launch has been put off by
one week,” Popovkin said.
The Soviet Union put the first satellite and the first man
in space, but Ruissia‘s space programme has suffered a series of
humiliating set-backs in recent months that industry veterans
blame on a decade of crimped budgets and a brain drain.
While none of the mishaps have threatened crews, they have
raised worries over Russia‘s reliability, cost billions in
satellite losses and dashed Moscow’s dreams to end a more than
two-decade absence from deep-space exploration.
Since the retirement of the U.S. space shuttles last year,
the United States is dependent on Russia to fly astronauts at a
costs to the nation of $60 million per person.